Three full-time East County Fire and Rescue firefighter positions that were eliminated at the end of 2014, have now been reinstated and are also included in the 2016 budget.
The positions had previously been made possible through a three-year Federal Emergency Management Agency Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response Grant. That funding ran out at the end of 2014.
Without the $208,000 needed to continue to support those positions, layoff notices were issued in December 2014.
According to Commission Chairwoman Martha Martin, in early 2015 then Interim Chief Dean Thornberry and the board worked to find a solution that would result in the re-instatement of those positions.
Money was scraped together from several sources. These included dollars that previously would have funded the salary of former Chief Scott Koehler who was fired in January; and some money that was rolled over from the previous year’s budget. In addition, the ECFR members of the East Clark Professional Firefighters sacrificed a portion of their education and uniform allowances.
“They stepped up, and forfeited benefits worth $11,000,” Martin said. “That was their helping us, as we all put our heads together to bring those jobs back.”
One firefighter was hired in April, another in May and a third earlier this month.
With a full staff of emergency personnel on board, the district is now capable of covering two stations (Mt. Norway in Washougal and Fern Prairie in Camas), instead of one, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
All three positions are included in ECFR’s 2016 budget, which was approved by the board of commissioners on Nov. 3. A resolution reflecting that decision is included on the agenda for tonight’s meeting, which begins at 7 p.m., at Station 91, 600 N.E. 267th Ave., Camas.
The $2.328 million budget includes $753,144 in salary costs to support nine full-time firefighters, one full-time chief, one full-time administrative specialist and one part-time accounting assistant. Approximately $151,500 is earmarked for five part-time firefighters, and $48,000 is being reserved for overtime costs.
Thornberry retired Nov. 13, and an interim chief recommended by executive search firm Emergency Services Consulting International could be approved during tonight’s meeting. The hiring of a permanent chief is expected in February. A salary of $100,000, plus benefits and payroll tax has been budgeted in 2016.
After using a model that designated a chief to oversee administrative duties and an assistant chief to handle operations for many years, the 2016 budget reflects leadership changes and structural adjustments that have occurred during the past year. After Koehler was fired by the commission. Thornberry handled both functions until his retirement.
“The job is doable with the administrative people that we have, who do so much,” Martin said. “Someone like Dean, who didn’t have chief experience could step in without [an assistant chief] and do the job. We have good captains who are also very supportive.”
All ECFR employees will receive a 1.35 percent cost of living salary adjustment. Firefighters will receive an additional 4.65 percent increase, per their contract approved earlier this month.
Other 2016 budget highlights include $45,000 for vehicle repair and maintenance, and $30,000 for building repair and maintenance.
Two line items include $56,000 for an apparatus reserve fund, and $20,484 for a capital reserve fund. Both funds are prioritized as part of a Strategic Plan crafted during a process that took place earlier this year.
On the revenue side, the district is predicting it will receive $1.99 million in tax revenues. In 2015, the district received $1.79 million.
ECFR’s paid staff, in addition to 33 volunteers, provide fire protection and emergency medical service response to the 10,000 residents who live within the 60 square miles of unincorporated area that are north of and east of the cities of Camas and Washougal.